Faith Works 10-31-15
The Eve of All Saints
"For all the saints, who from their labors rest…"
It's a beloved hymn, and one that's often sung at this time of year to commemorate the church calendar feast of All Saints, or "All Hallows" in old English usage, making the day before All Hallows' Eve, or good ol' Hallowe'en.
Make of it what you will, but most of it has been made over from churchly purposes, and the remnant is, well, tomorrow for some of us.
All Saints' Day is a time to remember all those who "have died in the Lord," that "great cloud of witnesses" who are the faithful departed. Many churches will include an "in memoriam" of some sort in worship tomorrow morning.
But as Paul says in Romans 1:7, "To all those being in Rome beloved of God, called saints: Grace to you and peace…" The saints of God are not just the deceased, but those who are wholly God's, and kept holy in faith, and between "holy" and "saints" is pretty much the same word, "hagios" in Greek.
Yes, there might just be saints reading this! Whether it's a saint who's writing it…
We might be abashed to claim that title of "holy" for ourselves (although Paul would point out that, through grace and mercy, there's nothing to claim, but it's a gift that's being given to us), but I think we all know people in our faith communities who are saintly indeed, holy in intention and action, whose role in our lives and often in whose years there is a quality we can only call "hagios," saint or holy either way.
At our church, we've been spending Wednesday nights working this fall through James, and the call for the faithful to tend to "the widow and the orphan" is made clear to us. Those who are on the margins of society are where God is calling us to be present and active, of that there's no confusion. Not all widows or widowers are saints, but among our seniors, there is a faithfulness in patience and sorrow and even suffering that is humbling, that brings to mind that which is holy.
There are two Sundays each month that our congregation has taken on the responsibility of bringing a simple ecumenical worship service to two different nursing homes. The first Sunday of the month is always one, and the third another. Often, I go and lead and share an edited version of my Sunday message; edited simply because about twenty to twenty-five minutes is about all that works well in those settings.
But not infrequently I have another church event or conflict, and a number of other leaders in the church can step up, leading a few old familiar hymns, offering a prayer with the Lord's Prayer as its anchor, and a message is shared. We would not want to let them down or leave the eight to twelve at each place who are expectantly waiting for our arrival those Sunday afternoons to face an empty doorway, and no opportunity to share in a gathered time of worship.
It startled me to learn, though, that at both of the local nursing homes we come to, we are the only Sunday worship that comes in. They wait a month until we return, because that's all that they have showing up.
So in honor of all the saints of the Lord, past and present, I'd like to put a challenge before the other church bodies of our area. There are at least 220 congregations in Licking County. There are about ten nursing home facilities in Newark & Heath, maybe two dozen in the county as a whole. It strikes me that if every congregation would find an open Sunday afternoon near them, and commit to once a month regularly, this should be a blessing that James and Paul and even Jesus would honor. Some forty churches in Newark and Heath would cover the Sundays, including fifth Sundays since there are already a few like Spring Hills Baptist and Bible Baptist Churches that are already, like Newark Central Christian, doing more than one Sunday a month anyhow. If you're not sure you can do this (and you can, you know), take a fifth Sunday for a facility, and that's just three or four times a year.
For all the saints, they should not be sitting waiting for weeks to worship. Let God's people go forth in song and prayer! If you don't have a homily at hand, just read a few psalms.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what stories have helped you understand wholeness in your life at email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.